by Christina Cronin and Maura McCabe, STAR teachers at the Abisi Adult Education program in Lowell, MA
When we first found out that it was time for our school to adopt the STAR model, and that we would have to attend several training days over several months, we were a bit overwhelmed, honestly. Once the training was complete, we had to figure out just how to implement STAR into our program. While we knew it would take extensive planning on our parts, our director was on board with building planning time into our schedules to allow us to create and build thematic STAR units. One thing we knew for sure was that our lower level learners really enjoyed learning about science and history blended into their reading and writing instruction. This one bit of consistent feedback from them, over several years, served as a springboard for our STAR planning.
In the Beginning
When our students begin, they each receive an orientation, during which they learn about the rules and regulations at Abisi Adult Education, and about the STAR program. Each student is given a binder to keep all of their STAR materials organized. This binder is kept at school. In the binder, students are given a handout that explains the four components of STAR (Phonics/Alphabetics, Vocabulary, Fluency and Comprehension). The binder also includes their personalized schedule, a Knowledge Rating Scale, and a Vocabulary Quadrant.
Creating Curriculum—the Content
When creating the curriculum, we generally begin by choosing a topic for the unit and then looking at a calendar to see how many weeks we have before our next start date for students. Our program manages enrollment with new students starting classes every 6 or 7 weeks. Once we know how many weeks we have for a unit, we then begin planning it out in a logical sequence, deciding the main concepts and topics to focus on.
One such planning calendar is shown here. Please note that it's a draft, a rough copy for planning, and may therefore include grammatical mistakes!
Creating Curriculum—STAR Planning
When we have decided upon concepts and topics, we then begin to create materials to be used for each week. We typically take the time to comb through all of our book resources and flag and copy anything relating to the topics we’ve laid out on our planning calendar. We are fortunate enough to have purchased many resources through our school budget, but we also utilize and print a lot of articles from many online resources.
Setting up the Space and Materials
We have color-coded the 4 components of reading in an effort to minimize stress and help keep students (and staff) organized: Alphabetics/Phonics is green, Fluency is purple, Vocabulary is yellow, and Comprehension is blue. We find that photocopying materials for each component on colored paper helps the management of class time.
Increasing student’s vocabulary knowledge is a key component of STAR, so we also like to post our vocabulary words each week. Since we have 2 different groups for Vocabulary who meet in different rooms, we have a vocabulary board in each room, with the words appropriate to the group that meets there.
We encourage students to refer to the words on their wall and to try to use them as much as possible! Once introduced, students make their own sentences with their vocabulary words, and we encourage students to use them in the context of our unit themes. During vocabulary review weeks, students have the opportunity to create crossword puzzles on computers for their peers to practice with.
In an effort to create independent learners, we have also set up a station for students to use. The student station includes extra copies of the Knowledge Rating Scale, Vocabulary quadrants, and Vocabulary sentence sheets, as well as various Comprehension and Alphabetics templates. The station is designed so that as the year progresses, students can take templates as they run out.
The student station is shown here, with student binders and color-coded strategy templates for each of the four components.
Is it worth it?
Although STAR takes a lot of pre-planning, we are fortunate to have our director’s support for building in adequate planning time and ordering necessary materials. We feel that color-coding and organizing some of the key STAR elements has greatly improved our efficiency and our student’s comfort with this reading program.
The feedback we have received from our students has been very positive, and they have shown great improvements through STAR! In last year’s class of 15, we post-tested 12 (3 left the program). 11 out of these 12 students showed improved scores, and 6 of those 11 made Measurable Skills Gains. We also recently found out that four of our former STAR students are now enrolled at Middlesex Community College.
Yes, it is!
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